Category Archives: people

Jack Fleck (1921-2014)

The man who defeated Ben Hogan in the 1955 U.S. Open died today at the age of 92 in Fort Smith, Arkansas.

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Fleck was an outstanding ball striker, but an indifferent putter. He came to the Olympic Club confident and knowledgable, having played many rounds there. He was one stroke off the lead going into the Saturday 36-hole final.

With several holes to go for Fleck, Hogan was in the clubhouse with a two-stroke lead. On the 72nd hole, Fleck need a birdie 3 to tie Hogan. He got it, to get into a playoff the next day.

Fleck had a one-stroke lead on the final hole when Hogan slipped hitting his drive, and ended up with a double bogey 6, securing the victory for Fleck.

Fleck, who began and ended his career as a teaching pro, did not receive the adulation a National Open championship normally received, one, because he beat Hogan, and two, he was an unknown.

He got a set of Ben Hogan irons just before the Open, with the blessing of Hogan himself.

Fleck won only two more tournaments on the PGA Tour.

His autobiography, The Jack Fleck Story, describes the payoff shot by shot.

Dr. Frank Jobe (1925-2014)

You know who this guy is. He is the one who invented Tommy John surgery to repair the elbow of baseball pitchers. John, a pitcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers, had a useless left elbow until Jobe took an unneeded ligament from John’s right wrist and grafted it in place in John’s left elbow. After healing as complete, John went to win 146 more major league baseball games.

The real name of the procedure is “ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction while using the palmaris longus tendon.” Let’s just stick with Tommy John surgery.

But this is a golf blog, so where’s the connection? Jobe did pioneering work in the role of different body parts in the golf swing. You can look them up at PubMed, a clearing house for medical journals.

He also wrote a book of exercises for golfers, titled, 30 Exercises for Better Golf. Golf is an athletic event. You need to have the right muscles developed to play it well, and to play it injury-free. This book tells you how to do that.

Golf is hard on the back. It’s hard on the elbows and shoulders, too. As we age, we loose flexibility, especially in trunk rotation, which causes us to lose power, which causes us to try to make up for it harmful ways. Keep the golf muscles strong and flexible, and the effects of aging are diminished.

All these are good reasons to be prepare for golf by being in shape for it.

I have read all the golf exercise books I can find, but this one is by far the best. Get it, use it. And thank Dr. Jobe for helping us stay healthy.

 

Jim Flick (1930-2012)

Jim Flick, one of golf’s most respected, loved, and influential instructors, died on November 5th of pancreatic cancer. He was 82 years old.

Flick was a competitive golfer in his youth, and was Arnold Palmer’s roommate at Wake Forest in the early 1950s. After a brief try on the professional tour, Flick turned to teaching.

In his career he taught at the Golf Digest Schools, teaming with Bob Toski and co-authoring two books with Toski, How to Become a Complete Golfer, and How to Feel a Real Golf Swing. Flick’s book On Golf is a best-seller.

Later, Flick teamed with Jack Nicklaus to run the Nicklaus-Flick golf schools.

In addition to teaching amateur golfers, Flick was instrumental in turning Tom Lehman from a journeyman on the mini-tours to a major champion.

Flick’s conception of golf was to put away science and play more by feel. This video shows that teaching in action.

Fick was honored by Golf World magazine as one of the top ten golf teachers of the 20th century.

Happy 100th Birthday, Ben Hogan

For those of you in the Ben Hogan fan club, today is your day. It is the 100th anniversary of the Master’s birth, in Stephenville, Texas (about 60 miles SW of Fort Worth). Hogan is the ultimate self-made player, winner of five U.S. Opens (the Hale in 1942 counts), numerous other major titles and PGA titles, and probably the most iconic golfer of all time.

There is so much to be said about him, that I don’t know where to begin, and you probably know all of it, anyway. I’ll just let some famous pictures do the talking.

Hitting a 1-iron into the 72nd green at Merion in 1950. Photo by Hy Peskin.

This is how it’s done.

 

The Hogan downswing from the Wonderful World of Golf episode in 1965 where he hit every fairway and every green.

 

Ben Hogan (1912-1997)

See this video of his swing on YouTube:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q5s7o2HFbh4

Ben Hogan biographies:
Ben Hogan: An American Life, by James Dodson
Hogan, by Curt Sampson

See also:
Miracle at Merion, by David Barrett
and
Afternoons with Mr. Hogan by Jody Vasquez

For the 85 photos that were used as models for the Anthony Ravielli drawings in Five Lessons,
The Fundamentals of Hogan, by David Leadbetter

and finally,
Five Lessons: The Modern Fundamentals of Golf, by Ben Hogan

Visit www.therecreationalgolfer.com

The Worst Golfer Ever to Win a Major

No pro wants to be known as “The Best Golfer Never to Have Won a Major.” Who that is doesn’t get mentioned lately, but who is the worst golfer ever to win a major never does. Leave it to me to bring it up.

Don’t get me wrong. Anyone who has ever won a major championship is a fantastic golfer and deserves all the credit he gets, or got. But they’re not all Ben Hogan. I’m just asking who is the farthest away from the Jones/Hogan/Nicklaus/Woods line of major winners.

First, we have to know what a major championship is. The four majors played today are not very often, but rightly, referred to as the “modern majors.” Back before the first Masters in 1934, we had the Western Open, played in Chicago, and run by the Western Golf Association, a rival to the United States Golf Association. There was also the North & South, played at Pinehurst. Both of these tournaments were considered majors well into the 1930s. I’m not sure when the Masters became a major, but it didn’t start out that way. Since we can only evaluate golfers in the context of their time, I’ll include the winners of the Western and North & South up through 1945.

We also need to know when to start our examination. The British Open dates back to 1860. I wouldn’t know how to evaluate the 1865 winner, Andrew Strath, for example, who inserted himself in the middle of a 12-year period from 1860 to 1872 when the only winners were Tom Morris (Old and Young) and Willie Park. Strath, for whom the Strath Bunker on #11 at the Old Course is named, has to have been pretty good. The other five tournaments had later starts, but I’m going to wait until 1919, the first year following the close of WW I, to begin the study.

I could write a long essay, but since this is a blog post, I have to get right to the point. You can look up each of these tournaments on Wikipedia to look at the list of winners and draw your own conclusions. These are mine.

Post-WWII:
British Open — Ben Curtis (2003)
United States Open — Orville Moody (1969)
PGA — Shaun Micheel (2003)
The Masters — Larry Mize (1987)

All Time:
British Open — Alf Perry (1935)
United States Open — Sam Parks, Jr. (1935)
PGA — Tom Creavy (1931)
The Masters — Larry Mize (1987)
Western Open — Abe Espinosa (1928)
North & South — Pat O’Hara (1922)

Worst Golfer Ever To Win a Major — Sam Parks, Jr. The 1935 U.S. Open was his only professional victory.

Paul Harney (1929-2011)

Paul Harney, a stalwart of the PGA Tour in the 1950s and 60s, died last week at the age of 82. He won six tour events from 1957 to 1972, and finished fourth in the 1963 U.S. Open, missing the three-man layoff by one stroke. In the 1960 Open, he was Arnold Palmer’s playing partner for the final 36 holes of Palmer’s historic victory.

Harney played full-time on the Tour for only seven years. Once his children started school he became a part-time player and full-time club professional. He had four top-ten finishes in the Masters, finished seventh once in the PGA, but never played in the British Open.

For those of us who remember, Harney was one of the players who created the face of professional golf in  that era. For me, he represents the time when I started to play the game and follow the Tour. I was a wonderful time, and thinking of him takes me back.

My condolences go out to the Harney family, who had the privilege of long association with this great man.

Visit www.therecreationalgolfer.com

PGA Player of the Year – So Far

Now that the four major tournaments have been completed, we can start talking about who is likely to be the PGA Player of the Year. Because no one player has been truly dominant, it’s a difficult decision to make.

We should start the discussion with who won the major tournaments. The major title winners this year are Charl Schwartzel, Rory McIlroy, Darren Clarke, and Keegan Bradley.

Clarke and McIlroy aren’t members of the Tour, so they’re out right away. Schwartzel won the Masters, and finished no worse than 12th in the other three majors. Bradley won the PGA, but wasn’t qualified for the other three.

In the past twenty years, only three players have won POY without winning a major title. Greg Norman in 1995 and Corey Pavin in 1991 won the award and were the Tour’s leading money winner. This year the money leader is Luke Donald, with Nick Watney close behind. Schwartzel is currently #20 on the money list, and Bradley is #6.

Multiple Tour winners? Jim Furyk, the third non-major POY winner, won the award last year for winning three tournaments, including the Tour Championship.

This year’s multiple winners, each with two, are Mark Wilson (13), Bubba Watson (9), Steve Stricker (4), Watney (2), with current money list places in parentheses, and Bradley.

Donald has won twice in Europe, but that won’t help him here. He won once on the PGA Tour and has been world #1 for eleven weeks.

Stroke average? In order, Donald, Stricker, Watney, Garcia (!), and Schwartzel. This has never been the deciding factor, but it does add validation to the other criteria.

Those are all the objective standards we can haul out. If you want to add charisma, McIlroy wins hands down, but again, he’s not a member of the Tour. Who we are left with are Bradley (two wins + PGA), Donald (one win, W#1, leading money winner), Stricker (two wins, #4 on the money list), Schwartzel (Masters), and Watney (two wins, #2 on the money list). Watson, and Wilson, nope.

Stricker, Schwartzel, and Watney are having good seasons, but that’s it. It looks to me like a contest between Donald and Bradley, with the edge to Donald because of his year-long consistency and assuming W#1.

Of course, someone could get hot in the FedEx Cup series and shake things up. Normally I don’t care very much about this desperate exercise to compete with the NFL and NASCAR that only Tim Finchem and Kelly Tilghman love, but this year it might actually mean something.

Visit www.therecreationalgolfer.com

In Praise of Gary McCord

Everybody loves Gary McCord. He is the tournament announcer who always sees the odd view, who isn’t afraid of making the loopy comment that everyone is thinking, but no one will say. Everybody loves him.

Well, may be not the stuffed shirts who run The Masters tournament, who objected to him talking about greens that were so slick they had been bikini-waxed, and about a spot behind the 13th green where they find the body bags of golfers who hit the ball there. I mean, Augusta is more holy to golf than the Vatican is to Catholicism. How dare he?

He dares because he’s Gary.

But that’s not all Gary McCord is. He is a guy whom every Tour player should tithe one percent of their winnings to. He, not Tiger, and made the tour the lucrative profession that it is. Gary McCord is one of the top five most influential persons in the development of the PGA Tour.

Why? He was the prime mover in creating the all-exempt tour, which changed everything overnight. Here’s what that means.

In the early years of the PGA, all you had to do to play in a tournament was show up and pay the entry fee. If you were unknown, having another pro vouch for your skill established your credentials.

Starting in the late 40’s, more golfers wanted to play than there were spots in the tournament. Patently unqualified golfers tried to compete. That demanded Monday morning qualifying rounds to be played, the highest finishers given entry to the tournament staring on Thursday.

For a while, that system worked, but is was a brutal entrance to the Tour for golfers who might might be bounced on Monday and have to wait around seven more days to try again. For golfers who passed Monday qualifying, making the tournament cut meant they were eligible for the next tournament. Miss the cut, and we’ll see you again on Monday morning.

So many golfers were knocking on the Tour’s door, that a qualifying program began in 1965. Called Q School, the survivors were the ones who could play on Monday mornings.

It worked for a while, but the Tour grew to the point where in the early 1980s, 68 percent of the Tour players were non-exempt. They had to Monday-qualify to get into tournaments.

Also the Monday qualifiers, called “rabbits,” played very conservatively in order to just make the cut. They weren’t learning how to play to win.

Joe Porter, a one-time Tour pro, had, along with Phil Rogers and a few other pros, come up with the idea of an all-exempt Tour in 1973. Gary McCord called Porter in 1981 and said something had to be done. The two discussed the all-exempt idea, and McCord was off to the races.

He floated the idea to the membership of an all-exempt Tour, got the sign-off of both the big stars and the rank and file, and presented the proposal of a 125-player exempt list to Tour Commissioner Deane Beman. It was approved for the 1983 season.

Now players finishing Q-School would have an entire year of tournaments they could enter at will to retain and secure their playing privileges. No more Monday qualifying.

Though the idea wasn’t McCord’s originally, this guy, who is a lot smarter than people think, or than he wants people to think, was the prime mover behind it all. On the air, he displays the mind of a man who sees the world differently than the rest of us. But then, it took that kind of mind to see this task through.

If he doesn’t end up in the Golf Hall of Fame, there’s no justice in the world.

My new book, The Golfing Self, is now available at www.therecreationalgolfer.com. It will change everything about the way you play.

Another Tiger Woods Blog Post

If you are a regular reader of TRG, you will have noticed a lack of mention of Tiger Woods, a famous golfer who is now famous for not playing golf.

This generation of sportswriters doesn’t know what to write about except him. Tiger wins – 20-point bold head and six pages. Tiger watches at home on TV – lead article with photos (Oh yeah, the guy who won. Might as well give him some ink, too. Picture if you got one.)

Tiger is the story. Not Tiger is the story, too. Good grief.

We have had a long dry spell of Not Tiger, and I have plenty of other things to write about, but I have to break my silence. He fired Steve Williams.

Now that doesn’t break me up too much. I’m not crying for a guy who earned $9M on Woods’s bag, and is now carrying for Adam Scott. I just can’t figure out why it took this long.

Nor can I figure out why Williams is miffed. Doesn’t he know who he worked for? The guy who will and has fired anybody he chose to further his career. Loyalty is a one-way street in his company. The only sign points to Woods.

What I can’t figure out is why anybody still carries a torch for this guy. He has character flaws to burn and they aren’t well-hidden. Sure, he smiles and knows how to be a nice guy. But at life’s turning points, where you show what you are really made of, Woods fails the good character test every time.

I don’t write him off, because anyone can change. I sincerely hope he does. It would be sad for his legacy to be, “Yes, he won all those tournaments, but . . .” The but being he was pretty much an amateur human being.

He needs someone in his life who he can go to when he’s being a schmuck who will tell him, “You’re being a schmuck, knock it off.” Not sure that will ever happen.

So Williams will, in a few weeks, realize that being released from Woods’s company was a positive career move and will find his life to be much better off for it.

Let’s not close before we mention Rachel Uchitel, one of Woods’s paramours. She’s trying to get out of a consent agreement that keeps her quiet about her affair with the Father of the Year. Will she be able to go public with the lurid details? Would you love to read them? It’s just another act in what’s become a circus, isn’t it?

Back to writing about golf.